Definitive Kingdom

Ridley Scott on the extended release of Kingdom of Heaven

by Matt Arnoldi

One of the great visionary story-tellers, Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) brings to release on DVD an original and extended version of his latest cinematic masterpiece, Kingdom Of Heaven, arriving as an all-new four-disc collector's edition on release via Fox Home Entertainment.

An epic tale of brutal idealism and passionate warfare, Kingdom Of Heaven: The Director's Cut delves deeper into the personal philosophies, moral ambiguities and political principles behind the bloody Crusades. There’s lots of interesting new footage, including a mother and child exchange that is arguably one of the best sequences in the newly-extended epic.

In addition to almost an hour of new and innovative footage, the comprehensive four-disc collection also features thorough bonus materials, including audio commentary by Scott and his illustrious production staff, as well as historical information, insights into the meticulous recreation of medieval times and an extensive examination of the film's theatrical development.

With an all-star cast that includes Orlando Bloom (Lord Of The Rings trilogy), Liam Neeson (Batman Begins), Jeremy Irons (Reversal Of Fortune) and Eva Green (The Dreamers), Kingdom of Heaven also boasts a production team whose collective credits encompass some of the top epic films of all time, including Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart and Armageddon.

Recently Ridley took time out in London to talk about the release.

Q : How close to the Director’s Cut was the version originally released?

RS : “Usually your first cut is proportionate. This one was huge with a 150 page screenplay, and I think the first cut was about 3 hours 15 which is pretty good. It could easily have been a lot longer. In this instance I thought it was a pretty good length, and I showed that to the studio. My relationship with the studio is really good. I think over time I’ve learned to stop being a screamer and get interactive, otherwise you get killed in Hollywood. I stopped being a screamer shortly after Blade Runner, kicking doors and things like that, because I wasn’t actually getting anywhere.”

Q: So you don’t get annoyed if the money men interfere with aspects of your movie?

RS : “If they pay for it, they’ve got a right to an opinion. My first attitude is coming from being a businessman and a producer. If somebody’s given me X to spend they’ve got every right to say something about it. Particularly if they think it’s too long – long means boring. So I always listen and consequently I’m very interactive and user friendly with studios. Be reasonable, they may be right. It took me a lot of years to realise that sometimes they were.”

Q: Is that why it was originally released under three hours?

RS: “In this instance the enemy was the [audience] preview, which is becoming like a science. It’s ridiculous, the whole process of making movies and writing screenplays is visceral and intuitive. When you actually go to a preview you’re asking 600 people to come from different demographics, to become Siskel & Ebert. It’s rubbish. Normally people will come and say, at the end of the film ‘I liked that’ or ‘I disliked it’ or ‘I kind of thought it was okay’. That’s it. But at the end of a preview 600 sheets go out to 600 people, a very detailed questionnaire and that night it’s computerised so the following morning I’m looking at a breakdown of the information and fighting demographics of women under 22 or over 27 or guys under 18.”

Q: Were there other differences in what you wanted and what the studio expected?

RS: “Bill [Monahan] writes very dense, prosaic screenplays, some of the best I’ve ever read. The dialogue is very steeped in history, I would almost define him as a historian, but the studio at one stage said ‘what’s this dialogue? The guy writes in double negatives’. I said ‘what’s a double negative?’ The dialogue is beautiful, it was a token to being period. If they really wanted to really go period you don’t want to hear William Shakespeare in a film that cost this much, so this is a good acknowledgement of the period.”

Q: The major beneficiaries in the Director’s Cut are the scenes returned to the film with Sibylla and her son, aren’t they?

RS: “Reynald was a warmonger. Guy de Lusignan was married to Sibylla, who was the sister of Baldwin the Leper King, who got leprosy at 15. Instead of being asked to stand down he insisted on becoming king. He became impossible to look at by the time he was 18. He had silver masks made and wore gloves because he was rotting from the inside out. And he functioned until he dropped down dead at 24. The boy king was then crowned, Sibylla became the Princess Regent. The danger comes from this lunatic Guy de Lusignan, to whom she was given at the age of 15. And this guy, because he’s a man in these particular times, would have definitely affected the decisions on the throne. We know the boy became ill after ten months of being crowned and history said the boy was murdered by his mother.”

Q: But you disagree with this view, don’t you?

RS: “We think that was nonsense because if you’re going to murder a boy for power you kill him with a bad oyster when he’s five or six. Or make sure there was a riding accident. You wouldn’t wait until he was already crowned. So you start to apply contemporary, sensible thinking to that idea, because it’s stupid. It doesn’t make sense. It’s been written, historically, that the boy may have died of leprosy. This is where the clue is, this is how you assemble these screenplays and this is where historians tend not to have the imagination they ought to have. We look at that and go, that’s interesting, because if the mum was rumoured to have killed the boy – and I don’t believe she killed the boy for power – if the boy was rumoured to have had leprosy then that may have been possible. She would have performed a mercy killing on the boy because of the hideous life that her brother had over nine or ten years, that she was not ready to let her son suffer. That makes sense.”

Q: Orlando Bloom has never been so heroic as in your film, has he?

RS: “He did pretty good. In Troy he was asked to play Paris, who essentially would be described as weak. The others are strong, Brad Pitt and Eric Bana. They’re the hunks. And poor Orlando was there playing Paris, though he did get the girl! It’s a big film to walk into.”

Q: Finally, how important is it for an audience to know about the history and the characters in a film like this?

RS: “I think the story should unfold. I think a film should always be ahead of the audience. There’s no equation, a film can be an hour ahead of the audience and they’re sitting there going ‘what’s going on?’ and suddenly it all falls together.”

Kingdom of Heaven : Director's Cut is on general DVD release.

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